There’s never been a more difficult time to lead a talent acquisition function. Recruiting leaders are challenged daily to streamline processes, to deploy technology, and to leverage data in more ways than ever before. Fortunately, recruiting leaders can make massive improvements to their function and they can drive transformation through modern practices that is just now beginning to take shape in some of the most progressive organizations around the world.

The practice is called RecOps. In this industry-first introduction to RecOps, James Colino guides HR and recruiting leaders through the steps on how to build a practice in any organization. You’ll learn the skills necessary to do RecOps and discover the importance of mission, vision, and strategy in setting the stage for transformation. 

With RecOps, you’ll identify what’s broken in your hiring process and you’ll fix it using proven techniques that are going to help you hire better talent faster at lower cost and with a better overall experience. Here is my conversation with James Colino. 

Welcome into The Author Hour. I’m your host Benji Block. Today, I am joined by James Colino who has just come out with a new book, the title of the book is RecOps: Recruiting is Still Broken, Here’s How to Fix It. James, welcome to Author Hour.

James Colino: Thanks for having me, Benji, look forward to our chat. 

Benji Block: Yeah, I’m looking forward to this as well. Let’s start here, James, for listeners who perhaps are new to your work, give us some context for your background and what your life looks like, what your day-to-day is.

James Colino: Sure. My day-to-day on the Head of Talent Acquisition for a family-owned and operated convenience store chain called Sheetz and at Sheetz, we have about 630 stores on the east coast, we operate 24/7, 365 and we have about 22,000 employees. It’s a big, fast-growing, fast-paced company and we hire a lot of people. My role at Sheetz is really to set the vision and the strategy for the recruiting function and I lead the team of recruiters who really help us hire about — we hire about 18,000 people a year across the business.

Benji Block: Wow.

James Colino: Yeah, most of those are hourly associates, so as you can imagine in this labor market, it’s been quite a challenge over the last couple of years but the team’s done an amazing job.

Create Clarity and a Foward-Leaning Recruiting Process to Attract the Talent You Want

Benji Block: Yeah, I’m excited to dive into this here because I know the turnover and all of that is in a pretty interesting space, so it’s a good time for a book like this to come out but also, I’m sure it’s a hard time to write a book like this because you have a million things you could be doing. Why was now the right time to write a book on recruitment operations? Why’d you take on this project?

James Colino: Yeah, you’re right, the book could not have come out at a better time. Obviously, didn’t predict that we’d be in one of the most challenging labor markets in the history of the company or country but here we are. I’d say that’s — it’s not really why I wrote it. I wrote it because I’ve been in the recruiting space now for about 20 years.

Anytime you’ve spent that much time in one vertical, you get to see the industry go through a lot of changes and although I’ve seen a lot of great strides being made and I’m proud of what we’ve done in the recruiting industry as a whole, from the days of faxing your resume to some random fax number and not knowing if anybody really even received it to today, where some companies have the ability to complete a hiring process in less than 20 minutes from application to onboarding without ever talking to a human.

There’s some companies that have come a really long way but if you really look at what’s happening in most recruiting functions around the world, you still see the same problems that have really existed for 20 years. You’ve got really clunky online application processes, some of which take 20, 30, 40 minutes and still, only 30% of candidates actually get a notification letting them know that the company’s received their resume.

You still have some very basic issues that are broken in a recruiting function and on the flip side, you’ve got managers and business leaders who are experiencing longer and longer delays in getting their jobs filled and it’s costing more money than ever. So, you just have all of these pressures that yes, they’re caused by the labor market but they were there in the last 15 iterations of the labor market over the last 10 or 15 years.

It really comes down to the fact that despite all the progress that we’ve made, recruiting is really still broken at far too many companies. That’s why I really decided to tackle the topic as a whole as opposed to saying, “Hey, here’s how you can better operate in a pandemic from a recruiting perspective.”

Benji Block: Got you. Okay, who are you imagining reading this? Who in the organization should pick up this book, your ideal reader?

James Colino: The book has a pretty specific audience. As I was writing it, I really had three personas in mind. One is sort of me, as a recruiting leader who really wants to transform their recruiting function so that they can deal with pandemics or whatever happens to come their way or they’re just not sure where to start in general to begin transforming a recruiting function.

One is really a recruiting leader. I think it would also be really helpful for senior HR leader who is responsible for recruiting function and wants to drive improvements but they’re not sure how to do it. I’d say, probably the last one and these are in no particular order but the last one would be a RecOps practitioner or an aspiring RecOps practitioner who might be doing some of the things that I wrote about in the book but maybe they just want to sharpen their tools and pick up a couple new examples that they might be able to add to the bag of tricks.

Benji Block: Let’s dive into some of the content here and I’ll actually read some of your words back to you because you said this, you said that, “In the absence of a forward-leaning mindset and practice, a recruiting leader will fall behind, lose control of their function and live in a constant state of treading water.” This book will help you prevent that from happening or dig you out of that mess if you’re already in it. Describe for me what is a forward-leaning mindset and practice in your mind?

James Colino: Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the principles of RecOps, what it really helps you do is not only deal with things that are happening to you but it really helps you look out into the future, create the clarity of having a vision and a mission and a strategy and then delivering the deliberate practice and the deliberate continuous improvement activities that will help you get to that vision.

The forward lean that I referred to there is really staying ahead of the curve, being ready for things like pandemics when they come and really reaching out and being progressive, similar to that example I shared about the 20-minute hiring process.

Benji Block: I love being forward-leaning. I think you’ve touched on it a couple of times, these added complexities. Is there anything outside of COVID that you feel like is really adding to the complexities that we’re experiencing right now when it comes to hiring? Because I’m sure, across recruiters, there’s some common things. You want it fast-paced, you want great candidates, you want it to be done for a reasonable cost but you’re just, it seems like there’s a ton of hiccups that are probably all kind of converging right now, right?

James Colino: Yeah, that’s very true. I would say the pandemic has been a major influence on a number of different things. For example, worker preferences are changing dramatically, so if a recruiter was recruiting from a specific geographic footprint for example, for IT developers or something and they had to come in the office, that was normal. You would just recruit somebody and they would know that they had to report to an office and now, the expectation is to be remote. 

Overnight literally, the entire labor market has shifted from, “I’ll come into your office and work” to, “I’m not going to come into your office at all” and so what that has done for the smaller players in the marketplace is it now makes you compete for talent against all of the other companies who have said, “Hey, we’ve got a remote-first policy now.” It’s really dramatically changed the talent landscape.

Benji Block: On that one specifically, just to go down that road and that rabbit hole for a second, what are some ways that if you want to — for instance, let’s say, do a hybrid model or maybe you are trying to, now that a lot of these restrictions have listed to say, “We would like people to kind of come back to the office” is there some things that you would define or have people consider doing in order to attract those types of likeminded people that would, say they would do want to work in an office or in a hybrid environment and kind of set that standard from the outset?

James Colino: Yeah, I think companies right now are doing a really good job with the sort of redrafting work policies. There’s work-from-home policies, there’s a fully remote policy, there’s a hybrid policy. I think there’s that that’s going on. I also think that companies can be really smart if they’re beginning to think about creating regional hubs where, yeah, even if they don’t have a headquarters location, they’ve got a regional hub in say, Dallas or Columbus or Chicago, where employees who work in that general area can still come and experience the culture of the company, connect with others and utilize some of the technologies and infrastructure that a company would be able to provide. 

Benji Block: I love that. I’m so interested to see what the next couple of years look like as we settle more into a remote, but then, also hybrid model because I do think there’s starting to be those sort of growing pains where you’re experiencing that need for something a little different than maybe just fully remote, so thanks for offering that there.

Okay, so from a high level, I want to talk about the key components of what you lay out in the book of this RecOps practice and there is five parts to it but I was wondering if you could take us kind of through from a high level of those five and then we’ll dive into some of what’s laid out.

James Colino: Yeah, sure. I’ll give you a sort of a definition of what RecOps is —

Benji Block: Great.

James Colino: I don’t know that we’ve gone there yet. In its most simplest form, RecOps is a continuous improvement practice for the recruiting industry. The main goal of RecOps is to help the recruiting leader or recruiting function to really establish that clarity and that forward lean that we talked about, then create a deliberate way to transform whatever it is that that clarity happens to define. So then, the ultimate goal is really, to enable an organization to do a number of things, make better hires, make them faster, do it at a lower cost, a better experience, et cetera.

That’s what RecOps is in a nutshell and just to further go down that path to make an analogy — I find this to be helpful — I like to compare it to some adjacent practices that are in other functions of the business. For example, if you look at a company that does manufacturing for example, they have a department or a person who practices lean six sigma, right? They make better products faster with fewer defects. 

In the software development world, you have a function that uses a practice called DevOps to make better software faster with fewer defects. It’s very analogous to those functions and those practices. When you take that and you look at now transforming that over to or transporting that over to a recruiting function, they don’t have the same. We don’t have the same processes and the same methodologies but what RecOps really does is that it allows a recruiting leader or a RecOps practitioner to take from these other continuous improvement methodologies, whatever they want to use from that bag of tricks to apply to anything that’s happening in a recruiting function, anything that needs to be fixed.

The five steps that you mentioned, they’re really — there’s a couple of ways to look at this. I do talk in the book about a RecOps model and in order to really go down the path of creating a RecOps function inside of a company you have to think about RecOps as a model, whereby you have strategy, so that’s your clarity. You do have a recruiting operations pillar, so those are sort of the administrative things that sit in your function. 

You have the actual recruitment process itself, so from sourcing to screening to interviewing to offers and then you have a pillar that is made up of the data that gets put off or I call it, exhaust. It’s the data that comes off of the recruiting practice and then there’s a pillar that’s called RecOps and that’s your continuous improvement engine, right? 

In order to practice RecOps, you have to look at your function in those five components and then you can apply your RecOps methodologies across the recruiting process, across your operations or your strategy to improve it.

Design Thinking Reworks the Process to Meet the Needs of All Parties

Benji Block: Yeah, got you. Okay, so walk down that road a little bit more. You say, in the book, having five sections and you are kind of giving an introduction to RecOps there. I would love to know what was your, I guess, you call it an “aha moment” in the book, right? Of where you were like, “Okay, we need to be studying and experimenting with this RecOps” and what was the moment for you that you’re like, “Man, we really…” this has just become highly fascinating to you, James? 

James Colino: I would say as a career for me, I have always whether deliberately or by chance, just walked into situations where there either was not a recruiting function in place and I had to build it or I walked into a situation where they did have a recruiting function but it was kind of completely broken and had to be turned around. 

I’ve sort of built that skill over time and so after about 10 or 15 years in the business, I started to see patterns of other people and other companies that were taken off of what’s called “the line” or the “recruiting line”, whereby you’re no longer a recruiter, you’re fixing stuff. You are doing recruiting operations tasks. So I had the opportunity when I worked at the Hershey Company to step off the line and I had really progressive Chief People Officer who basically came to me and said, “Hey, I want you to step off the line and work on technology enablement.” 

“I want you to work on enabling insights through data and then designing experiences and an employment brand.” That was really the first iteration of me being in a RecOps position and then it just raised my awareness to begin looking at it in other places, I started to find other people like me and other companies and started to study it and that’s really what kind of led to the infrastructure of this book. 

Benji Block: It’s always interesting to hear like the behind-the-scenes of that and how it was developed. I want to dive into this. In your introduction to RecOps, that first section, you identify three levers: enabling insights, embracing technology and designing experiences and we are not going to go to all three here but as it pertains to that third one, designing experiences, you expand on this process of actually using design thinking.

I thought it is super fascinating to read that section. Walk us through how design thinking can help fix recruiting in a sense and I think the example you gave in the book is actually in sales recruiting specifically, this idea of design thinking playing into designing experiences. 

James Colino: Yeah, so, this was also the example that you are mentioning was that the Hershey Company to go back to what I had said previously about RecOps being this sort of flexible model where you’re not really constrained by certain methods to be used like you might be in six sigma, for example. You can really pull like design thinking or experience mapping or value stream mapping. 

Whatever you want, you can pull it from other iterations of continuous improvement. So, in this particular scenario, I had a process that was broken and instead of kind of just process mapping it and doing what I think is right to fix the process, I use design thinking and one of the principles of design thinking is sort of getting out of the building and going to talk to your customers. So I went and I did ride-alongs with some sales reps to see what they did in their job. 

I wanted to know what did they do at the ground floor. I wrote with some district managers who do the hiring for the sales reps and I talk to them about their hiring process and some of the challenges that they had and then I really look end to end at the whole hiring process. I mapped it out with my team and then we built some prototypes and we tested the prototypes, so there is an iterative process to design thinking. 

We tested some prototypes, we went back to our customer, we said, “Hey, how does this look? Would you use this? Does this work for you?” Then we did a pilot. The pilot went really well, so we expanded it and you know, by the end of the pilot and the expansion, we had dramatically transformed the end-to-end process by removing several steps from the candidate’s experience and reduces the cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

You know, had kind of three people in that process, three key customers were satisfied. The candidate was much more satisfied, the recruiter was incredibly more satisfied because they were meeting their goals and then the district manager had their positions filled faster at a lower cost, so they were thrilled. 

Benji Block: Let’s stick with these examples, give me some other examples of activities that you see that can really drive transformation. I know it’s going to be different business to business but you’ve obviously seen benefits so you have examples I am sure in your back pocket. I’d love to hear a few more.

James Colino: Sure, so design thinking is a big one that gets used. I would say also that at my current company, I use something called Trello that I talk about in the book as well. One of the things with RecOps is something that I call “managing your practice”, so you’ve got a practice but you also need to manage it and in order to manage that practice and transform something that you’re working on, you need to put it into a project management methodology. 

For example, I use Trello to manage all the different projects that we’re working on that manages that forward lean and that roadmap that we use, so that we’ve got a really clear definition of what we’re working on, what status it’s in and what we need to do to complete it. We could have at any given time five or six things that we’re working on but we really try to prioritize those projects according to what’s most important. 

If you want a concrete example, one of the things we’re doing right now at Sheetz is we’re designing an interview training program. So in a very similar fashion to what we did at Hershey, we went out and we talked to all of our key customers, we gathered their requirements, you know, what are the requirements for each of the different functions and what we found was that we couldn’t create just one interview training program. 

We needed five and we have five different clear audiences and so we segmented those audiences the same way that you would do in maybe a marketing exercise or a growth hacking exercise and we’re creating now different like a different toolset for each of those five audiences, an entirely different training process with different interview questions and different outcomes as well. 

Benji Block: Wow, how did you guys — I mean, just straight up the feedback is what took you from what you thought was one to five? 

James Colino: Yeah, it really comes down to listening to your customer. A lot of times, I think recruiting leaders are really overwhelmed, they’re really busy and they want to just go and fix something and a lot of times, you’ll end up thinking that you fixed something only to create a bigger problem downstream with one of your other audiences. The key component that is involved in just about everything that we do is listening to our customers and gathering their feedback. 

Recops Is a Deliberate Focus On Ongoing Continuous Improvement, Projects and Tools, and Processes

Benji Block: We talked a little bit about the heart of the book, we’ve talked about the “why” here. I think one of the questions would be who, so you talk about a RecOps practitioner. I wonder if you’d describe like who is this person, what are your kind of specifically looking for, what is a RecOps practitioner, James? 

James Colino: One of the ways that I talk about in the book that recruiting leaders can really put a RecOps practice in place is, you really have to think very clearly about who is going to do this work because as I’ve described it, it can be quite technical and you are pulling from some other continuous improvement methodologies. You might be implementing a new enterprise-wide applicant tracking system. 

You might be pulling data and trying to create a dashboard, so it tends to be a highly technical role, you need somebody that can really manipulate data, extracting sites and be able to tell stories from that data so that you can figure out what’s wrong from your recruiting function. If your customers aren’t, you know — your customer is going to tell you one thing but you have to look at the data as well. 

I mentioned technology enablement, so that’s a key part of what a RecOps practitioner will do and quite frankly, this is really where you see most RecOps practitioners — they’re also called Talent Ops Practitioners in some companies but— they typically come out of like the technology side. So that’s something that you’ll see quite frequently. They are responsible for innovation and process optimization, project management, program development, sometimes training. 

Overall, it tends to be one of the mistakes that I think a recruiting leader can make in trying to build a RecOps practice is to not hire someone or put someone in place who has all of those capabilities because when it typically goes wrong is when they just try to — when they create all of these — they identify all of these issues in their function and then they kind of dole them out across their team. 

They give one project to Bill, one to Sally, one to Mike, right? They’re recruiters, they’re not cut out for project management and process optimization and things like that, so I really do believe strongly that you need to pick the right person, they need to have the certain skillset. 

Benji Block: Any other sort of common pitfalls you see when building out RecOps? Anything else you would highlight here for listeners who are interested in and you just go, “Hey, I am already down this road, here is something that I see as maybe a potential pitfall.” 

James Colino: Yeah, I’d say two things and they’re sort of related. Number one is when I first – you know, I wrote this book in kind of two chunks. One was relatively quick. You know, I kind of thought I had everything down and I wrote it in three months, put it down for a year. I started the job that I am in right now and I wanted to pressure test the things that were in the book against real live environment and so I spent a year doing that. 

One of the things that I found was that a lot of the things that you and I have talked about here really point to the fact that there is a lot going on in a recruiting function and you can fix a lot of broken things but what really drives the forward lean and where RecOps practitioners should really focus their time are on those three fundamentals that you pointed out, enabling insights, embracing technology and designing experiences. 

That’s one of the things that the first iteration of the book was like, “Here’s all the things you can fix” right? Then the final iteration that you’ll see now is it’s much more focused around the three things that are most important to focus on when doing RecOps and then the second thing that I was going to mention that’s related is just one pitfall is just to give the RecOps practitioner too much to do, too many things to fix at once, that just goes back to that whole concept of prioritization. 

Benji Block: As we start to wrap up here, when a reader is done with this book, is there a — do you think those three courses are like the main takeaway or what do you hope someone walks away with this book feeling or maybe it’s a knowledge that they now have? 

James Colino: Yeah, I think the two things that I really hope they walk away with is that the beginning part of this is that you have to establish clarity in the beginning. I talk about this in the introduction of the book, you have to establish the clarity because if you don’t have that vision — it’s like that old saying, you know, “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there” that is just one of the ways that you are going to fail. 

You have to establish the clarity, so I think that’s a big takeaway in the book and then the other piece is around building a practice. So you could view recruiting transformation in a very tactical way whereby, “Hey, I am just going to put this piece of technology in and that is going to solve all my problems.” That’s a tactic but RecOps is a deliberate focus on ongoing continuous improvement, projects and tools, and processes. Those are the two things, it’s just clarity and continuous improvement. 

Benji Block: That’s great. Well, James, for those that have listened to this and they want to stay connected to the work you’re doing — we’re obviously going to tell people to go get the book on Amazon as well but — where can they reach out and stay connected to your work? 

James Colino: Well, listeners can certainly connect with me on LinkedIn. I am pretty active on there but I would also say that I would love it if they could go to the website, recops.org, and sign up for a community that I am trying to build there around recruiting optimization and transformation. I’ve kind of deliberately not created the community yet because I think the type of people that is going to attract are going to help me co-create the type of community that would be loved and will create a lot of engagement around transformation. 

There’s no community yet but go there, fill out my little form that I have on the website and I will reach out to you to get your thoughts on what kind of community you think we should build. 

Benji Block: Love it. Well, thank you so much for spending time here on Author Hour. For those that want to go get the book, do so. We would love for you to go pick it up on Amazon. The book is called, RecOps: Recruiting Is Still Broken, Here’s How To Fix It. James, we are so grateful that you spent some time with us here. I know the book is going to be a great resource for so many. 

James Colino: Great, I appreciate the time, Benji.